Danny Parker's thoughts
It's hard to imagine this Tennessee team going into the offseason anymore positively than it is now after a 45-28 win over Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl at EverBank Field on Friday afternoon.
Joshua Dobbs didn't get hurt. The game was never in question (led 28-0 at one point). Kenneth Bynum showed signs he should be considered for the full-time job replacing A.J. Johnson at linebacker. Several true freshmen got to gain some valuable experience late. The list goes on.
The Volunteers are flat a better football team with Jalen Hurd healthy and on the field. The freshman needed just 16 carries to net 122 yards and two touchdowns. Someone needs to be assigned to Hurd to keep his nose clean and keep people from latching on. He's an extremely important piece to success moving forward even if Alvin Kamara lives up to his Scout five-star billing.
Von Pearson did as I expected him to. Finally healthy from an ankle sprain in Game 2, Pearson deserved and got targets. The JUCO transfer had to step up his game with a host of injuries at that position.
The Tennessee defense missed too many tackles but as Butch Jones said, that is partially to be expected in a bowl game because no coach in his right mind is going to be highly physical the entire month of December after the 12-game grind. Jalen Reeves-Maybin led the way with nine tackles. This group must improve on containing mobile quarterbacks scrambling out of the pocket.
Matt Darr's career as the Vols punter came to a close with the fifth-year senior netting 37.2 yards per attempt. Classy kid, his character will be missed. Tommy Townsend must step in, live up to the hype and be better. Aaron Medley did his job in every way imaginable and is a bright spot for the next three years.
Jones and this staff did one heck of a job gluing this bunch together. Having to suspend A.J. Johnson looked like it would be a back-breaker but Curt Maggitt filled the void emotionally. Jacob Gilliam left a legacy of toughness that will be passed down from one team to another for decades. Those that survive the roster changes between now and the Bowling Green game in September have a chance at immense success.
If not for some pointless scores late, Tennessee would open up next season in many writers' top 15. If all the scheduled pieces to return in fact do, this team is a no-brainer for starting out ranked.
Special teams — B
Randy Moore's thoughtsTennessee coach Butch Jones showed mercy at the end of Friday’s TaxSlayer Bowl, enabling Iowa to score two touchdowns in the final four minutes and turn a 45-14 beat-down into a somewhat respectable 45-28 victory. If you look at the previous 56 minutes, however, the Vols dominated in all phases.
The offense was unstoppable from the outset. Tennessee scored touchdowns on its first four possessions en route to a 28-0 lead. The Hawkeyes couldn’t tackle Jalen Hurd and they couldn’t figure out how to stop the dual-threat magic of Josh Dobbs. Hurd finished the first half with 97 yards on 10 carries. Dobbs went to the break with 51 rushing yards (on five carries) and 81 passing yards (11 completions in 12 attempts).
Tennessee took advantage of the long break prior to the bowl game to put in a halfback pass for senior Marlin Lane, who threw a strike to Vic Wharton that resulted in a 49-yard pass/run touchdown. At the break Tennessee had 321 yards of total offense and a 35-7 lead. For all intents and purposes, the game was over.
Tennessee’s defense was almost as outstanding for 56 minutes. Vol reserves gave up 14 cheap points in the final minutes but the game was long over by then, so I’m not going to consider that in my overall grade.
The Vols’ special-teams play was very good, too. Aaron Medley hit his only field-goal try, a 28-yarder, and did a fine job with kickoffs. One kickoff just missed the pylon as it went into the end zone for a touchback. Iowa’s Jonathan Parker attempted to return another angled kickoff and wound up stepping out of bounds at his own 3-yard line. Bottom line: Tennessee’s kickoff and punt coverage was so strong that Iowa’s field position was awful all afternoon.
What's not to like?
Special teams —A-
Josh Woodward's thoughts
Tennessee wanted it more; you could see it before the opening kick. The players were amped and Butch Jones had them ready to go. This team was prepared and knew what to expect from Iowa. I was really impressed with this performance, reminded me of the NC State game a few years ago. I can’t wait to see this team next year.
Offensively Tennessee had a great game plan an executed that plan almost flawlessly. Iowa couldn’t contain the edge with Tennessee’s speed. The Vols were so much faster than the Hawkeyes. I thought Jalen Hurd ran extremely well, the freshman looked healthy and full speed ahead. I thought Dobbs played his best game as a Vol. He ran when he needed to and made quick decisions down the field when passing.
Defensively Tennessee showed that they were faster than Iowa also. Iowa wasn’t a very good passing team an even when they spread the Tennessee defense out and put them in a nickel package they still couldn’t run the ball. I thought Kenny Bynum played well, also thought Curt Maggitt played aggressively. If it wasn’t for two late scores by Iowa this would have been the second most dominant defensive performance behind TCU over Ole Miss.
Special Teams coverage was good this game, they made Iowa pay for bringing the ball out of the end zone. I thought Cameron Sutton did a good job of running up a fair catching a couple of short punts so it wouldn’t hit his teammates.
Butch, Dobbs, Maggitt post-game video
Jacob Gilliams speaks after end of Vols career